Anyone who knows me, for that matter this blog, could easily foresee that the first novel by the renowned director-producer-screenwriter, Michael Mann, would have been so highly anticipated. Certainly by the guy who used a piece of dialogue from one of my all-time favorite films1, said director’s seminal Heat (1995), to title his blog. And if my bride of three decades plus hadn’t gifted this to me for my birthday, I’d have gladly bought it the first day of its release.
Vague, I’m not.
Additionally, that the novel would be co-written by another esteemed mystery-thriller writer, Meg Gardiner, just made getting my hands on this book a no-brainer. Anyone who has attended the world mystery writers conference, Bouchercon (and yes, I’ve raised my hand), is already well aware of the quality of her work and continually growing fanbase. Hell, Stephen King has already touted Meg, so that’s more than good enough for me.
Not a bombshell to say I keep coming back to what I’ve deemed a pivotal film of Michael Mann’s career, as was expressed here during the initial year of the pandemic. The “crime saga” Mann laid out across the sprawling chessboard of the city of Los Angeles was such a success, and momentous to a number of us, that it set the bar from there on out. With realism and style, the film humanly blurred the line between good and bad, right and wrong, which exacted a cinematic toll on its characters.
The totality of what the director, cast, and crew accomplished this in such a way you didn’t know who you were rooting for till the end; and even then the satisfaction with the head-to-head confrontation on display was succinctly tinged with a sense of grief.
This is what the novel HEAT 2 was up against. That instantly gave it a built-in gravity well of attraction for fans of the film while simultaneously setting their expectations in Jupiter-level terms. For the reader, this placed certain presumptions upon the characters on the page the book had to live up to. Any odd or unexpected deviation in personality, or in reference to the film, that didn’t jibe and this re-entry vehicle is crushed in that Jovian atmosphere2.
So, did Mann and Gardiner meet those grand expectations? Sadly, yes. I’ll explain why I put this in contradictory terms.
“Hanna, in a ballistic vest with a Benelli semiauto twelve-gauge at port arms, is in the precise scrum, stacked up within the SWAT unit in the tactical ballet, bodies to bodies, precisely aligned feet. He nods to the SWAT team leader, who holds an automatic rifle across his chest, barrel high. The man raises a hand and counts down on his fingers. Silent entry. He reaches zero, aims his hand at the door like a hatchet, and goes.”
~ from HEAT 2, immediately following Neil and Vincent’s final meeting
From what I’ve heard3, Michael Mann intended this book to read more like a screenplay. No doubt in keeping this to his strength as a screenwriter and director. But since Hollywood hasn’t, as yet, translated it to the screen4, that would only partially work for readers in between a book cover. And that would be why one needed an author of Meg Gardiner’s caliber to pull off a potentially fraught endeavor such as this and keep it moving beyond a screenplay’s limitations.
Although, the novel is not devoid of film influence. Far from it. Following a similar time-hopping structure of The Godfather Part II, the story intercuts from seven years earlier when the two leads character were in Chicago, if only briefly for Neil5. Then jumping ahead to foreign black markets, both physical and digital. The result is each of these percussive onscreen personas is given an engaging backstory and tangent worthy of their exacting natures.
The particular geography of this border region, along with its rampant political corruption and weak judicial system makes it a haven for transglobal crime and the illicit activities connected with it.
HEAT 2 opens with Hanna hunting down Chris Shiherlis, played by Al Pacino and Val Kilmer in the movie, the last man left alive from Neil McCauley’s crew the day after the film ends. Wounded and desperate, he has to get out of L.A., and with the assistance of Nate (Jon Voight, when he had sense), gets to the notorious Ciudad del Este. Fans of the director will note his repeated interest in this tri-border area along the junction of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay6.
The novel’s time and location movements are serendipitous after the film’s airport finale. Especially in 1988’s Chicago, where we actually establish the tale’s true villain7, then along the Mexican border for our principal and newly introduced characters. HEAT 2 doesn’t lack scope. Paired with the authors’ hard-boiled prose and propulsive pace makes it quite the page-turner8. Given the many times I’ve screened this film since 1996, this will be a must-read for fans of the film.
Because of that, I really can’t answer if someone who’s never seen HEAT could say the same.
This is the second first-time novel by a prominent screenwriter-film director I’ve read. Quentin Tarantino’s, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, is the initial one. Contrary to Mann’s, that was a novelization of his 2019 film that also fleshed out more history and characters. While QT’s expounded the tale, it remained in the same place and time9. Thankfully, HEAT 2 does way more than that, and the period vaults of 1988, 1995-6, and 2000 only add to its depth.
The novel as one would expect from both Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner, who share the same distinct passion for research and the material, offers a keen perspective on the levels and spheres of crime. Both foreign and domestic, and showcased as a by-product in this enlargement of case profiles. Including covering what occurred from the ’90s on when lawbreaking (like porn) spread headlong into the ether. Headlined here with Kelso’s character amplification.10
All of the film characters’ diverging paths are reflected in this far-reaching novel, but the authors made sure they returned to their source. Connecting things together, as fans would expect, with Michael Mann’s film and later endeavors11. Plus, the famed director didn’t disappoint when the situations on the page needed to get “kinetic.” The tradecraft on the page, like Michael’s and Meg’s, no matter analog or digital, is always kept on a professional level.
No matter if it’s deployed in L.A., Chicago, Mexicali, or Batam.
Like the film that birthed it, HEAT 2 doesn’t start or end where one would expect. With Gardiner’s help, their words interlaced domains only some truly revel in, and others love to learn about. While some are happy to keep it safely at bay in print, and for it to get no closer. I suspect its violence can be a tad too sharp for some to read, but that’s all in keeping with what these two are known for. True HEAT fans will get what’s being handed them, and treasure the moment.
“He walks out the sliding glass door and crosses the grass of Kelso’s hilltop to the farthest point at the edge of the hillside. Below and beyond him is downtown LA seen from the east. Thousands of head- and taillights flow through the aorta of the 5 Freeway, the 101 and the 10 splitting off north of downtown. It holds him for a moment in ennui.”
And that’s why I’m sad about the outcome. I got to return to a realm of characters that had previously been frozen by time and only held on celluloid, later VHS, disc, and streaming venues. Happy to revisit regularly, but granted fewer and fewer tidbits to gleam on each return. Like peering at a great old car that’s been sitting for a quarter of a century in a dusky garage. Only to now get another chance behind the wheel and discover new lanes and create new memories with it.
But in reaching its final page, left to again return these valued characters to the bittersweet haven of recall.
Luckily, Audible released HEAT 2 in audiobook format the same day of the novel’s publication. Harper Audio did likewise but in Audio CD. Of course, the listener will miss out holding that very nice MICHAEL MANN BOOKS edition, care of Harper Collins publishers. Despite that, it is a quality audio production, and definitely worth listening to. Clocking in at 18 hours 39 minutes in length, the listener will have a detailed but not an overly lengthy experience.
But like the novel, this audiobook faced a challenge. Different, but no less daunting. Perhaps, even more so due to the original film. The narrator, Peter Giles, an actor, and voiceover artist, unenviably had to crucially replicate a good many of the HEAT‘s stellar ensemble cast and bring them back to life. Audiobook narrators, at least the good ones, can easily differentiate and personalize characters vocally in the story and provide a true to life rendering of their role for listeners.
IMO, Giles pulls off a damn good impression of Pacino, circa 1995, without sounding preposterous
We’re not talking about impersonating a Pacino, De Niro, Kilmer, et. al, so much, but rather getting enough of their speech pattern and cadence many of us know so well from the movie and on to the recording. Audibly capturing a hint of their essence, which is no mean feat. And did he? I’d say yes, once the initial fast-paced start of the book, which can be jarring at first. But once the listener gets into the rhythm the narrator lays down, you’re immersed in the storyline.
Giles, who is now handling the Bosch and Haller series for those Michael Connelly characters, has the noirish chops for delivering hard-boiled dialogue. Equally deft in narrating deadly action sequences and tender/tense moments. This is a must-have trait in taking on Michael Mann-based scenarios and Meg Gardiner’s suspense. Pulling off what the authors intended: audibly creating a cinematic experience inside of the listener’s head. And for this, that’s saying something.
- Which was recited in the novel, by the way. ↩
- You only have to reference the prospects heaped upon The Thing (2011) when that prequel was announced to John Carpenter’s 1982 horror classic. ↩
- I was in attendance at the L.A. Times Festival of Books event that featured Michael Mann being interviewed by author Don Winslow about the new novel. ↩
- And if they ever do, here’s hoping they give it a soundtrack as worthy as the original film’s, which I played throughout the reading of this novel. ↩
- If you’re familiar with The Bank Job (2008), Neil’s score while in The Windy City will be familiar to you. ↩
- In his 2006 film Miami Vice, Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs first meet with the head of the drug cartel they are trying to infiltrate in the Tri-Border Area. ↩
- We learn Hanna’s law enforcement career started in Chi-Town, pursuing a home invasion crew as nasty and violent as all hell, before moving on to LAPD. ↩
- And at 480 pages, that’s helpful. ↩
- And attempted to soften his b*llshit treatment of Bruce Lee in the film, IMO. And I couldn’t agree more with Shannon Lee’s take on QT’s treatment of her father. ↩
- Tom Noonan’s hacker character in HEAT brought Neil McCauley’s attention to the bank score in the film, which Waingro (Kevin Gage) learned about and used to ultimately doom him and his crew. ↩
- Computer hacking and malware use, and Jakarta, Indonesia’s jump point into black markets was also covered in Mann’s underrated Blackhat (2015) — wish someone would release its Director’s Cut, though. ↩